With rain and thunderstorms coming into the forecast for Sunday we changed our itinerary for this week from a North Georgia hike to a loop in the Smokies that would enable us to do good mileage and catch some great views on Saturday while still allowing us to camp and then have a short hike out on Sunday morning to avoid the bad weather and give us time to catch up with some of the much needed chores back home on Sunday afternoon. We ended up with a 17ish mile loop starting at Twentymile Ranger Station and hiking to Gregory Bald, Shuckstack, and then to Campsite 93 and back down to the car at Twentymile Ranger Station:
This was the lightest trip we have taken as a couple – and our legs and knees thanked us for it afterwards. Megan’s base weight was about 6 pounds and her total pack weight topped out around 11 pounds with some of her snacks for the day and a full 2 liter platy (she drinks an enormous amount of water for a small person). My base weight was about 7 pounds with a total pack weight of 13 or 14 pounds with all of our consumables (food, water and fuel). Megan and I were excited to be trying some new gear on this trip. Megan was carrying a Golite Ion pack and Golite Ultra 20 quilt both purchased off the BPL forums and I was carrying a new GG Murmer for the first time. I was very happy to find that despite carrying a frameless pack, Megan’s shoulders felt great for the entire trip. I also discovered that my GG Murmer could carry a few more pounds but I don’t think I’ll push it too much as it does seem a bit fragile compared to my ULA Conduit. This was also the first trip Megan had the opportunity to camp with me under our GG Spinntwinn tarp and I was happy she would still talk to me in the morning even with the rain.
We left the house in Atlanta around 5:00 AM Saturday morning and arrived at Twentymile Ranger Station by 8:45, filled out a permit and were on the trail by 9:00. The trip started out on the Twentymile Trail which is the remnants from an old logging road built in the 1920’s. We joined the Wolf Ridge Trail after .5 miles and started our 3500’ climb up to the top of Parson Bald. A couple of miles in we stopped and ate a snack (Cliff bars) when we found a good resting spot with good view of Gregory Bald.
Once we finished our big climb of the day and reached the summit of Parson Bald, Megan did a little stretching and I explored and took some pictures.
From Parson Bald it is a short one mile hike over to Gregory Bald which stands at about 5,000 ft in elevation. Last time we were at Gregory Bald all we could see was clouds so needless to say we were excited to have such great views today.
View looking South:
View looking North to Cade’s Cove:
View looking East to a snow covered Clingman’s Dome:
We at lunch which consisted of cheese, crackers, beef jerky and a Snickers bar on the north side of the bald behind some brush to get out of the wind and quickly found this little doe within 10 feet of us. She stood there for several minutes before wandering away.
We joined the Gregory Bald Trail on Gregory Bald and stayed on it for 3.2 miles heading towards the Appalachian Trail at Doe Knob. After heading out from the bald we found there was still up to 2-3 inches of snow in places on the north side of the bald facing away from the sun.
After meeting up with the AT we headed south and refilled our water bottles at the Birch Springs Gap campsite, mixed a quick drink of Gatorade and then headed off see the views from Shuckstack. We came up to Shuckstack and found the foundation and chimney remnants of the hut that was once on top of Shuckstack.
We then climbed the old fire tower and laid our eyes on these views:
Fontana Lake and Fontana Dam
Clingman’s Dome: The high spot in the Smokies and on the AT
Gregory Bald: Our hike from Gregory Bald basically followed the ridgelines you can see in the picture to where we were standing on top of Shuckstack.
From Shuckstack we hiked back north on the AT and then headed west down the Twentymile Trail towards Campsite 93. This part of the day was distinctly different than the previous 15 miles as we quickly dipped off the mountain ridgelines and followed Twentymile Creek to our ending spot for the night. On Twentymile Trail we saw many beautiful cascades and a very, very large Wild Boar that we mistaked for a Black Bear at first because it was so big. I unfortunately did not have a chance to take a picture since we walked away from it as fast we could. I’ve come up on boar’s before and they ran away as soon as they heard me coming but this one just stood still and looked at us. Maybe when you are as big as this boar is you don’t have anything to be scared of?
Twentymile Creek and its cascades were very nice too look at though and it was flowing fast as the park has received a lot of rain and snow in the past several weeks.
We arrived at Campsite 93 at about 7:00, set up camp and boiled some water for dinner. For dinner we ate one of our favorite FBC meals, “Greens and Reds” from Trailcooking.com (thank you Sarah!) and then hit the sack.
The forecast called for rain and thunderstorms to move in after 2:00 AM. It ended up raining, mostly drizzle with periods of rain, from about 4:00 AM onward. We stayed completely dry under or GG Spinntwinn tarp and slept well into the morning. The Spinntwinn had plenty of room for us and our gear. We packed up camp about 7:30 and were back at the car and on the road by 8:45 making for a great 24 hour trip.